On May 26-27, 2017, Amnesty International, the Armenian National Committee of Quebec, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies of Concordia University and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights organized an unprecedented event in Montreal in conjunction with the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations. "Rights City/Montréal, ville des droits humains" is a global event celebrating the role Montreal has played in advancing human rights worldwide. As one of the oldest and most inclusive cities in North America, Montreal can boast of a long history of encouraging diversity, protecting human rights and offering shelter to people fleeing persecution.
Wapikoni Mobile interviewed the 2017 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Melissa Mollen Dupuis, cofounder of Idle No More Quebec and Wapikoni Mobile’s Board of Directors Chairworman who participated in the Human rights begin at home: the path towards reconciliation panel along with Wapikoni’s executive director Manon Barbeau, Chief Ghislain Picard and Idle No More Quebec’s cofounder and Wapikoni collaborator Widia Larivière.
Melissa, what topics did the panel cover?
First off, I have to say that all the panelists knew each other as we’ve been collaborating for years and we are all involved in different sectors: political, civic and organizational. Reconciliation, just like Indigenous issues, is a multi-level affair. It was very inspiring to be part of the discussion that showcased different points of view and I think this ought to always be the way to proceed.
One of the important topics that we discussed was one that I hold dear: the need to have a multiplicity of voices. We’ve been hearing the same people for far too long. We need to encourage youth to speak for all Indigenous people. We also need to build our territory, for without it, human rights cannot be defended. Environmental issues concern every Canadian. But it looks like Indigenous and non-Indigenous people do not share the same views. Remote communities, which are also the poorest, are the most affected by environmental issues threatening their food security and health due to the absence of running water, degradation of traditional hunting grounds due to permafrost melting and tar sand mining. When you’re on the frontline, you get to see what’s threatening the rest of the world… And since poor people are the first to be hit, it’s like rich people don’t realize this is a problem.
What would you like to say to the voice amplifiers you mentioned earlier?
When you’re young, you feel like you have no power. You should know that one person’s ideology can change the world. Thanks to social media, you can contact others sharing your point of view and experiencing the same things you do in your community. We’re never alone, and so individuals are not powerless. If you have a great idea, it’ll work, especially if you don’t give up when you see the long road that lies ahead. Taking the first step is the hardest, but you’d be surprised just how many people will join you along the way.
You recently received an extremely important prize: Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience. Congratulations!
Yes, it’s Amnesty International’s most prestigious award. It feels so strange to be on the same list as Nelson Mandela, Bono and Malala Yousafzai…
To be honest, the prize was awarded to the Canadian Indigenous Rights Movement as well as to the activist musician Alicia Keys. This award is for everyone who marched with Idle No More. Receiving it is very encouraging too! I couldn’t be happier. It’s a great pat on the back for all this volunteer work! Such an important award is the proof that we’re doing the right things and that we can’t give up…. It also means that I’m spending all my free time serving a just cause!